15 Awesome Tools I Use To Manage My Projects

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Project management software tools are essential to manage projects efficiently. But they aren’t the answer to everything.

In this article I’ll share my top 15 project management tools that I use for managing multiple projects.

Most of what I use isn’t software-driven. In other words, even if you have no enterprise project management systems at work, you’ll still be able to put these tools to good use.

1. Project action log

Get free project management templates in this resource library
Get a copy of my action log inside the resource library (click the picture or scroll down to the registration box)

This is the number one tool I use and I really couldn’t manage without it. It’s a simple table that I created in Excel because I was finding it hard to track the actions from each of the meetings I chaired or took minutes for.

The action log meant that I could have all actions from all meetings (and phone calls, and corridor conversations) noted in one place.

I can filter by the person responsible and it’s so easy to chase people up when you talk to them because you know exactly what you are waiting on them for.

It is actually part of my RAID log. RAID traditionally stands for Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies, but for me it’s a multi-tabbed Excel workbook that covers the project areas that need updating the most. I’ve ditched Assumptions for Actions and included Decisions.

2. Project milestone tracker

Another Excel document I use, this one holds an extract of key milestones from the project schedule. Why? Well, most of my stakeholders don’t want to review a 600-line project plan every time they ask about project status.

The milestone tracker pulls out the big things that they care about and it’s really a communication tool.

I also create a version on a slide so we have a visual point of reference for progress during project steering group meetings.

3. Outlook: My inbox to do list

I know many people have moved to Gmail and whatever but I still use Outlook.

I don’t use my inbox in the same way as most people: my inbox is a To Do list, either of things I have to do or things I am waiting on others to do. I try to keep it at under 100 messages. Anything done or that isn’t a task gets filed or deleted.

I delete a lot of stuff. I had to look at the email account of someone who had left recently and he had thousands and thousands of emails just saying ‘thanks’ or other things like that. He’d even kept marketing mails from companies we didn’t work with and those annoying cold emails from recruitment firms you’ve never heard of. Delete, delete, delete.

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4. My weekly status report

I’ve written about my status report before. You can get a copy of free project management status report template here.

5. iMindQ for mindmapping

I don’t mindmap often, but when I do I use iMindQ. It’s easy, gives a clean result and I like that I can share the output in different formats depending on what I want to do with it.

I can also incorporate pictures, which makes it an even more visual output. It just saves time presenting data in ways that stakeholders want and they don’t need to know I haven’t done it from scratch.

I’m also impressed with the work that Seavus is doing on intelligent mindmaps – basically predictive mindmapping or auto-generated maps. Here’s a snapshot of part of the one that I generated in 30 seconds for Peppa Pig. How useful is this going to be for the boys’ homework in years to come?

Auto-generated Peppa Pig Mindmap
Auto-generated Peppa Pig Mindmap. We were watching Mr Skinnylegs just the other day!

6. My iPad

OK, I don’t use this so much for managing actual tasks, more for staying in touch with what’s going on. I use it for work when I travel, because it’s easier than lugging around a laptop and it has a much longer battery life.

I use an iPad Air with a green EasyAcc case. I used to have a black case but I kept putting the iPad down and couldn’t find it again. Green makes it findable!

7. Bluetooth keyboard

I use an Logitech wireless keyboard and it has completely changed how I use my iPad for work. I can do more project management tasks (erm, basically email and Slack) because I can type faster and more efficiently.

I can work on the train too. The trains are so bumpy that using the touchscreen on the iPad normally means hitting the wrong thing on the screen and having to redo work several times.

If you don’t have a wireless keyboard I strongly recommend getting one, even if it is something else to carry around.

8. Post-meeting checklist

Life’s too short to try to remember everything, every time. I use checklists where I can so that I can tick things off. I use them for packing suitcases, writing articles, inducting new members of staff and meetings.

My pre-and post-meeting checklists are in my Meetings Template Kit.

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9. Microsoft Project for Gantt charts

People always ask what planning tool I use and the simple answer is that I tend to do most of the detailed stuff in MS Project and the high level stuff in Excel (like the milestone tracker I mentioned above).

It’s just habit. I’ve used Project for a long time and I like what it can do. I use a lot of Microsoft tools to manage projects.

I use Plutio for Kanban-style task tracking too, and Office Timeline for creating PowerPoint slides with high-level timelines on.

timeline for a project
Example timeline for a project made with Office Timeline

10. Budget Tracker

Another of my fantastic Excel documents. It’s different for every project but after years of not knowing where money was going on projects I now have an easy tool where I can track budget, forecast and actual on the same sheet for opex and capex.

You can get a copy of my budget tracking spreadsheet template here.

11. Zoom for conferencing

I use phone calls, Skype, and Livewebinar for conferencing too, but for sharing slides, internal presentations and remote training, I use Zoom.

It’s another tool that has become a habit: something I once thought wouldn’t be much use and is now something I’m using regularly.

Elizabeth Harrin on the phone

12. Project contacts list

Every project needs a contacts list. I have an email mailing list for the core project team, and sometimes other key contacts too.

Then I’ll have a list of names, phone numbers, email addresses, job titles and other useful information somewhere in my project files (normally as another tab in my RAID workbook) so that I don’t forget the details of the contractors or suppliers on the team.

While I do have an electronic contacts list, I also use one of these to make notes about stakeholders so I can have a secure and private place to jot down information that’s important for relationship building and connections. For example, the names of their children or their pets.

13. Project Glossary

Perhaps it’s just my industry, but I don’t think so. Every new project seems to have an amazing amount of jargon and shortcuts. Recently I’ve started to add a new tab to my RAID log for a project glossary.

It is just two columns, listing the acronym and what it stands for. When necessary, I also add what it means, because sometimes the expanded acronym isn’t enough to actually work out what it is.

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14. Notebook

I’m pretty low tech most of the time. And I have a lot of notebooks.

These ones are my favorite. I think it’s important for notebooks to be able to open flat. Spiral bound books are a lot more practical for that.

elizabeth with flowers
This is me sketching out notes. I used A4 lined paper and my desk is covered with sheets and various notebooks

15. Project Charter

This starts life as the project initiation document and goes on to cover the rest of the project. I refer back to it often, partly because I need to remind myself of what we actually set out to do.

It’s is also useful to refer to when something changes as it prompts a reassessment of what else needs to change. Get a project charter template.

Those are the 15 tools that I return to time and time again. You’ll probably have a similar list of things that you use to speed up your project management and support other aspects of the systems and processes you use.

Next: Choosing the right collaboration and project management tool

Once you’ve got the basics down, you’re going to want to move on to looking at project management software for the team.

But… who’s got time to review hundreds of products and try to work out whether they actually have the features you need or not?

I am happy to recommend Crozdesk, the comparison site that actually has real experts behind the scenes, and my secret weapon for speeding up tool selection.

They ring you. You spend 15 minutes or so on the phone. They know their stuff. They match your needs to the products out there (looking at over 360 tools). They can save you a lot of time putting together your shortlist. Then you can take it from there.

There’s no obligation and no charge (it’s funded by the software companies, in case you were wondering). So there’s nothing to lose and hours of your time to gain.

Ready to check it out?

15 awesome tools I use to manage my projects


  1. I appreciate that this list is different than others. I totally agree that everyone should choose their own tools that suit them best. In my case, it’s https://kanbantool.com/ . I love that it actually combines a couple of functions so I don’t need to install a couple of apps, just Kanban Tool is enough. I also like that it doesn’t send thousands of notifications and is easy to use.

  2. Hey there Elizabeth.

    I’ve just been promoted to project management so I am doing some research online and came across your post from the previous one I was reading.
    I came here with the hopes of answering one burning question I have about my new job;

    Where do the responsibilities start and finish?

    As project managers are we really “responsible for all and everything”. That seems a bit daunting if I’m being honest – can you give me some advice on how to deal with this, please ?

    1. Why don’t you join the Project Management Cafe group on Facebook? This is the kind of thing we discuss there, and it’s too long a response for the comments section I’m afraid!

  3. Thank you so much for “Real” tools that I can begin using today. Thanks for the links to the templates and thanks for your feedback on his you use them. I appreciate that I was lead to mere fluff!

  4. This blog is very helpful thanks for sharing those wonderful lists! Cheers!

  5. Very interesting to read this, since I use almost the same tools. I also have a RAID-log, in which I keep project contacts, action log, risk log, decision log, lessons learned log, and a LvA (a Dutch abbreviation for List of Abbreviations). My RAID-log is also a multi tab Excel file and it contains even more tabs, like stakeholder mapping and quality log, and I hide or unhide the tabs I need in the project.

    I am still struggling with the budget tracker, I still haven’t got one that suites me well, so I am curious about yours. Maybe, if you like to, we could exchange tools / documents. I believe sharing is caring.

    And yes, I’m a writer, too. Some times people still laugh at me for writing, but I’ve seen that most of the time I am quicker with my notebook than others electronically on retrieving information.

  6. I’m using a single portal to manage all projects. This cut-down cost of software applies for management purposes, so I go with Apptivo. This tool allows tracking my employee activities, project assigning, team allocation, project budgets, milestones, Gantt chart and more. I can do all process without facing burden.

    1. We do not currently offer a budget template, but may put it on the wish list for the future.

  7. Outlook is definitely a must for managing mails and schedules in office project management. All these above mentioned tools are far much better than carrying old style note books and papers that always confuse.

    1. I quite like my notebook! I do still do a lot of work on paper because it’s how I keep my thoughts organised in the best way, but I know it’s not for everyone.

  8. I’m very old school but I often find these tools work best.

    I carry notebooks for each Project/Program/Portfolio that I’m managing, plus one for my “To Do” items.
    I use different colored pens to differentiate between note taking and action items.

    Then I enter any important Action Items, Risk/Issue or status updates into the client’s project management system of choice for everyone yo respond to.

    On weekends, I unwind with a cup of tea and some time to review my notebooks to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

    1. Thanks, Tony. I love notebooks, I’m not actually sure that I could function without being able to write things down. I don’t have different colour pens but I work with someone who does! You use your weekends to do work? If it works for you, that’s good but I try to not do work on the weekends.

  9. I love the idea of the Milestone tracker. I am running a training on PM 101 next week and I am absolutely planning to suggest the use of one.

  10. Thanks for the list, very helpful. As far as the Action Log – do you cut and paste action items from your meetings back into your Action Log? This is where I get stuck. It seems redundant to copy over, but then you forget about the actions until the weekly/monthly meeting comes up again.

    1. Yes, I copy and past from the minutes to the action log. It does seem redundant for the 2 minutes it takes to do it, but afterwards you’ll wonder how you ever managed to keep track of everything. I suppose it has the most value when you have multiple meetings and actions from emails and phone calls to log as well. If you manage everything in your team thorugh a regular team meeting and use the minutes from that, it amounts to the same thing.

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